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Self-Driving Truck Accidents Could Be In Our Future

by Busines Newswire
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Self-driving semi-trucks are ready to change the trucking industry. With technology advancing rapidly, these autonomous vehicles will soon be a common sight on roads.

This technological shift has significant implications for insurance policies and personal injury claims, affecting individuals who have been in auto accidents.

Reduced Risk, But Not Risk-Free

Engineers design self-driving trucks to minimize human error, which is the leading cause of most vehicular accidents. These trucks use advanced sensors and software to react faster than humans, which will help reduce crashes.

However, they aren’t completely devoid of risks. When technology fails, self-driving truck accidents can occur. Determining liability and proceeding with an injury claim can be complex.

Shifting Liability in Accidents

Traditionally, liability in truck accidents often falls on the driver or the trucking company. For example, a distracted truck driver who causes an accident would likely be held accountable for negligence. The trucking company could also be at fault for not providing proper training or oversight.

The traditional claims are straightforward. They aim to show either the driver’s responsibility or the company’s negligence in enforcing safety regulations.

However, with self-driving trucks, the focus may shift towards the manufacturers and software developers. When an autonomous system’s failure leads to an accident, the question of responsibility becomes more complicated.

This shift requires individuals, insurance companies and personal injury lawyers to navigate new territory when it comes to claims. To demonstrate this idea, here is an example scenario and how it could play out.

Hypothetical Scenario: A Self-Driving Semi-Truck Accident on I-55 in Illinois

John, a resident of Illinois, is driving his car along Interstate 55. As he approaches Springfield, a self-driving semi-truck suddenly swerves, causing a collision with John’s vehicle. The truck was operating in autonomous mode at the time of the accident.

John sustains multiple injuries and emergency services transport him to a hospital. After receiving medical attention, John seeks legal assistance to pursue a personal injury claim.

The research found that the self-driving truck made a mistake due to a software update problem. This issue caused the accident.

The study focused on analyzing the accident. The software update was the reason for the mistake. The team identified the software malfunction as the primary cause of the truck’s erratic behavior.

If this crash involved a human driver, John’s lawyer may ask for money from the truck driver’s insurance. However, in this case, the truck was autonomous, and the software glitch appears to be at fault. Therefore, John’s attorney needs to consider several potential defendants:

  • The Truck Manufacturer: For potentially failing to ensure the vehicle’s operating system was fully safe.
  • The Software Developer: For the glitch in the update that led to the misjudgement of road signs.
  • The Component Manufacturer: If it turns out that a specific sensor or hardware failure contributed to the accident.

John’s lawyer is preparing to file claims against various parties. The claims aim to help John receive compensation for his medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. The claim will have to prove, in detail, how each party contributed to the malfunction and the subsequent injuries.

The case involves complex evidence related to software algorithms and hardware functionality. John’s legal team must work with technology experts to learn how the truck’s system works and collect detailed evidence about the glitch.

The case could lead to settlements with several parties to avoid a long court battle, or it might go to trial if they can’t agree. In any event, it’s crucial that John’s attorney can clearly and effectively explain the technical details to a jury.

This scenario highlights the differences in cases involving advanced technologies like self-driving trucks. Due to all the variables of the incident, understanding who is at fault and gathering sufficient data to prove that point could be complicated.

As autonomous trucks gain popularity, truck accident lawyers will need to stay updated on technology and laws. This is necessary to effectively represent their clients.

Insurance Companies Adapting to Change

Insurance companies are also preparing for how autonomous trucks will alter the landscape. Experts expect new types of policies specifically tailored for autonomous vehicles. In addition, insurers might adjust premiums based on the perceived safety of autonomous systems compared to human drivers. To illustrate what this could look like, here is an example of a traditional auto policy versus what a policy might look like to add coverage for autonomous vehicles.

Traditional Auto Insurance Coverage

Liability Coverage: This covers costs if you are at fault in an accident that causes injury or damage to another person or their property. It includes:

  • Bodily Injury Liability: Covers medical expenses, lost wages, and legal fees of the other party.
  • Property Damage Liability: Pays for repairs to someone else’s property damaged in an accident you caused.

Collision Coverage: This helps pay for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another vehicle or object, regardless of who is at fault.

Comprehensive Coverage: Covers damage to your car caused by events other than collisions, such as theft, vandalism, or natural disasters.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) / Medical Payments: These cover medical expenses for you and your passengers regardless of who caused the accident.

Auto Insurance for Autonomous Vehicles

Enhanced Liability Coverage: Since determining fault can be complex in accidents involving autonomous vehicles, this coverage might need to be broader to account for issues like software malfunctions or failures in the vehicle’s automated systems.

Cybersecurity Breach Coverage: This would cover damages resulting from a cyber-attack that disrupts the vehicle’s autonomous functions, potentially leading to an accident.
Sensor and Software Malfunction Coverage: Specifically covers damages or accidents caused by the failure of software or hardware critical to the vehicle’s autonomous functions.

Extended Collision and Comprehensive Coverage: May include scenarios specific to autonomous operations, like damages caused by errors in navigation systems or other automated features not present in traditional vehicles.

Example Scenario:

Traditional Policy: John’s traditional auto policy covers him when he rear-ends another vehicle because he was distracted. His liability coverage pays for the other driver’s car repairs and medical bills, and his collision coverage pays for repairs to his own car.

Autonomous Vehicle Policy: Mary’s autonomous vehicle policy kicks in when her self-driving car misinterprets a stop signal due to a software glitch and causes a crash. Her policy not only covers the damages through enhanced collision coverage but also addresses claims through sensor and software malfunction coverage. If the accident was due to a hacking incident, her cybersecurity breach coverage would also be applicable.

Remember, these are just hypothetical examples, but they underscore how autonomous vehicle insurance needs to adapt to cover the complex layers of technology and potential liabilities that don’t exist in traditional vehicles.

Impact on You as an Insurance Buyers

For individuals purchasing auto insurance, these changes could bring both opportunities and challenges. Buyers might benefit from potentially lower premiums if autonomous vehicles prove safer than traditional vehicles. However, coverage for software malfunctions and cyber issues might lead to higher premiums for those features.

People need to understand their insurance policies better. This is important because self-driving cars are becoming more common. Ensuring that they have enough coverage is crucial.

Increased Risks to Pedestrians

As self-driving semi-trucks become more common, there may also be an increased risk of accidents involving pedestrians. Autonomous trucks rely on complex systems to detect and respond to pedestrians.

However, these systems can fail, especially in uncertain urban environments or poor weather conditions. The truck’s sensors might not always recognize pedestrians, leading to potentially tragic situations. This evolving risk underscores the need for continuous improvements in autonomous technology and heightened awareness of everyone on the road.

Progress Never Comes without Risk

Self-driving semi-trucks could make our roads safer and reduce accidents since they are designed to minimize human errors. They might also make transporting goods cheaper and faster, benefiting both businesses and consumers. However, with new technology comes new risks. Recognizing and managing these risks is crucial as we adopt these advanced vehicles.

By carefully tackling these challenges and improving safety measures, the use of self-driving trucks could lead to significant advancements in how we travel and transport goods, promising a safer and more efficient future.